Divorce and parentage settlements and orders in Rhode Island often contain provisions for the parents to split private school or other childcare expenses that are incurred by a parent while the child is under the age of 18. Divorcing parents may also agree to share expenses for children after they reach the age of majority, however, such orders may not be enforceable by the family court. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently entered a ruling in a case revolving around a father’s agreement to pay for his child’s college as part of a divorce settlement.
The plaintiff in the recently decided case was married to the defendant, and the parties had one child together. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the parties reached a settlement for their divorce terms, including issues such as child support, payment of private school expenses, as well as custody and visitation. Several years after the parties divorced, they modified the agreement with what is called a consent order. Under the consent order, the father’s child support obligation would be reduced by approximately $400 per month, and he would agree to pay for one-half of the cost of post-high school education for the child.
After the consent order was put into place, the father reduced his child support payment as agreed. When the child entered college, however, the father refused to pay for one-half of the tuition as discussed in the consent order. The mother sued the father in family court, arguing that he was in contempt of the consent order and should be ordered to pay his share of college tuition. The family court agreed with the mother and ordered the father to pay one-half of the college costs.
The father appealed the family court ruling to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, primarily arguing that the family court did not have the jurisdiction to order him to pay for expenses for educating the child once he had become a legal adult. The father relied on state law which prevented family courts from ordering parents to support their children after the age of 18. The state Supreme Court rejected the father’s arguments, finding that the consent order was a valid contract between the parents and that the father’s child support obligation was reduced significantly in exchange for his promise to pay for part of the child’s college. The high court determined that the family court is permitted to enforce contractual obligations between married parties, and found that the father was contractually obligated to pay for his share of expenses as agreed to in the consent order.
Obtaining Competent Legal Advice for Rhode Island Family Law Issues
If you or a loved one is considering divorce or filing a child custody case, it can be difficult to foresee all of the issues that may come up after the case has been finalized. Consulting a qualified Rhode Island family law attorney from Bilodeau Capalbo can give you peace of mind that your case is being handled properly. Our experienced Rhode Island family law lawyers understand the factors that are most important to family courts when considering custody and support, and our advocacy will help you achieve your goals. Call us at 401-300-4055 to discuss your case and schedule a free consultation with a qualified Rhode Island family law attorney.